Mindfulness

The Laws of Attraction

The law of attraction is that when you wish for something you get it. That is true for everything that we have, and less true for what what we don’t have or have and don’t want. The law of attraction works very well at a Starbucks. If we have money, we can wish for any hot beverage we can imagine and something like it will materialize.

With love, we follow our own attraction. When we notice we are attracted to somebody, then we love them a little. Our soul may not resonate with theirs, but our heartbeats are each between 60 and 120 beats per minute, our body temperatures are each around 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and we each occupy a proximal space at the same time. On top of that, we feel a sense of attraction to them.

We can approach those we are attracted to with awareness of our attraction and curiosity about who this other person is.  If they feel a similar attraction and look into our eyes, our heartbeats will speed up, our bodies will raise their temperatures, emit pheromones, and produce oxytocin, the love neurotransmitter, like they did when our mothers held each of us as babies.

People naturally love each other, but there is a lot involved in developing trust and understanding with another person. Attraction compels us to interact and make the effort to get to know each other.

The more we get to know another person, the more of ourselves we expose. Sometimes there are parts of us we are afraid to expose. Sometimes people judge and don’t like what they see. Sometimes we judge and don’t like what we see. These things keep coming up as we explore layers of intimacy. Ultimately, we each have to face ourselves as we engage with other people.

There are few better ways of getting to know ourselves than looking from another’s point of view. It helps if that other point of view is generous, amorous, and compassionate.  It helps if we are that way too as we learn to know ourselves and make the effort to know and love others.

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3 Easy Ways To Become Mindful

Here are thee easy ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life:

1. Pause several times a day to notice your breath.

Noticing your breath makes you present. Whenever you pause to notice your breath, breathe deeper than you had been. If you tend to carry around residual stress, your unconscious breathing will be faster and more shallow. When you notice your breath and breathe more slowly, you let out a bit of stress right where you are instead of waiting for life to become less stressful.

In those moments where you notice your breath, you also notice other things. You notice your thoughts. You notice how you feel. You notice your body posture. You notice if you are standing or sitting. You notice if you are plugged in or unplugged. As you notice these things and continue to breathe slowly, respond to whatever you notice with kindness. Being present, noticing things and responding with kindness is the essence of mindfulness. It is very easy to incorporate into your day. In fact, it is much harder not to practice it.

2. Unplug yourself.

Turn off your phone, stay off the computer, don’t watch television and be present where you are. You can do that for 5 minutes or 5 hours and as you notice what you notice in that time, respond to those thoughts and feelings with kindness.

3. Start a mediation habit.

Meditation is sitting and focusing your attention on your breath. You can do that for 10 minutes 2 or 3 times a day. You can do it in the middle of the night. A solid practice would be 20 minutes twice a day. Sit once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening. Dedicating yourself to a sitting habit is the difficult part. Sitting and doing nothing is as easy as it gets. If it’s not easy, its needed.

Mindfulness, when practiced in small doses, spills over into your day. Practicing meditation is doing all three of these at once. If you develop a mediation practice you will find many moments throughout the day where you are unplugged, aware of your breathing, present, and responding with kindness to the world where you are.

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Counting Blessings

Simple ways to generate good feelings are to practice generosity and gratitude. Counting blessings is an age old practice of being grateful. Counting breaths is an age old practice of meditation. One method of mediation is to rest your attention on your breath and count as you breath in and out. You can set a timer and count your breaths from one to ten over and over again or you can meditate for about 15 minutes by counting 100 breaths. If you want to be extra Buddhist about it you can count 108 breaths.

Whether you mediate or not, you can practice gratitude by thinking of ten things that you are grateful for. That is counting blessings. Taking time to acknowledge the good things in your life helps you feel good.  It contradicts pervasive thinking about problems and scarcity and reinforces the idea that life is good. When we believe life is good, each breath is a blessing.

We don’t have to feel good to believe life is good, but it makes it easier. That life is good is something we often take on faith. Believing it helps us endure periods of suffering. It gives us hope in humanity. It gives us a sense of purpose as we work to create justice and end oppression so that everybody can have an opportunity to experience life’s goodness.

Being alive is our opportunity to experience our connection to the natural world. With each breath we take we support our lives, we support our moods, we support our beliefs. Each breath we take is a blessing, but mostly we take our breathing for granted. Any time we need to remember that life is good we can check in with our breath. If we are breathing, that is good. If we take a minute to consciously breathe 10 times we will relax. If we take only 5 breaths in that minute, we will feel even more relaxed.

When we regularly practice counting our blessings or our breaths we create opportunities to appreciate life’s goodness. Sometimes we have to take it on faith that life is good. Sometimes we feel it.

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Breathe Easy

The easiest things we do take no effort at all. Breathing is easy. Loving is easy. Caring is easy. Being aware is easy. These components that are the basis of a mindfulness practice are all things that we do effortlessly all the time. They are so easy for us that we can’t not do them. Practicing mindfulness can be easier than not practicing.

To practice mindfulness you use your natural abilities to breathe, feel, care, love and pay attention, to both create peaceful feelings and to work with whatever feelings you have. To create peaceful feelings you can regulate your breathing to breathe like you would if you were at peace. Then think thoughts that evoke good feelings, like thinking about love or gratitude. To work with more difficult feelings you regulate your breathing to gather your focus and be open and caring toward the pain that you feel.

When you are well and truly relaxed you feel a deep sense of peace. The world may be falling apart around you, but your body and mind are at rest, You can deal with your little part of the world. You have found the way to put down your stress. In that place, in that mind space, you have wisdom. There, you are free to feel love. You can care about yourself, your friends and family, and the world. You can heal from your bumps, bruises and ailments.

When we don’t make time to be at peace we forget how to do it. We imagine that peace is at a spa resort, after retirement, in summer vacation, somewhere half-way around the planet, in the distant future, or lost in the past. We imagine that peace is a particular set of circumstances rather than within our immediate grasp. We forget that peace can be created through controlling our breathing.

When we consciously, intentionally practice creating and experiencing peaceful, easy feelings we learn the way. The more often we visit, the easier it is to get there. Sometimes it is necessary to feel stressed, anxious, afraid, sad or frustrated. It is important to feel those emotions in their time. Yet, when their time passes, it is important to let them pass. There are many things you can do to try to relax and let your breath fall in step with a comfortable circumstance, or you can begin with your breath and find that peaceful feeling right where you are.

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Spiritual Self-Care

In Zen, “spiritual self-care” is an oxymoron.

A fundamental teaching of Buddhism is the concept of no-self. When the Buddha looked into the Nature of Everything he saw nothing there that was him. He realized that the perception that we are separate from each other and everything else is the primary source of our suffering.

In Zen, spiritual self-care is recognizing the nature of suffering and a way through. The practice involves focusing your attention and observing the nature of your mind. The hard part about observing your mind is that you do it with your mind. Your mind creates all kinds of distractions that suck you in and set your focus wandering. That is the nature of mind. That is what you observe as you practice bringing your attention back to your point of focus.

The ultimate point of focus is the present moment. The present moment is where you live. As long as you are alive, you have your breath. When you focus your attention on your breath, it is grounded in your body in the present moment. Doing that, with a compassionate attitude, recognizing that there is suffering and seeking a way to ease that suffering is the basis of spiritual self-care. It is not so much the self taking care of the spirit, but the spirit taking care of the self.

Spiritual self-care involves taking care of your body and mind with a spiritual sense of caring. It involves eating well, sleeping enough, getting exercise, bathing, and brushing your teeth. It involves connecting with others, practicing compassion toward them and opening yourself to their compassion. It involves slowing down and being present right where you are with things just as they are, even if it hurts. When things hurt, be present with the pain and practice compassion for yourself. See what could be wrong and do what you can to help yourself feel better.

Two reliable ways to practice spiritual self-care and help yourself feel better are practicing generosity and gratitude. Those practices help us abide in our interconnected nature, which tends to feel good.

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Same Difference

There is a big difference between ignorance in the common sense of the word and the Buddhist sense of the word. In the common sense of the word, ignorance is being unaware, lacking in general knowledge or understanding. This common kind of ignorance when applied to people who seem different from us, different races, different cultures, different sexual orientations, different abilities can lead to division, derision, hate and violence.  People, ignorant of our ignorance imagine that the problem and threat rests in those we perceive as different, rather than in our own faulty perception.

In the Buddhist sense of the word, rather than a general lack of understanding, ignorance is a specific false awareness, a false sense of self. We wrongly imagine that we are something separate from everything else. Buddhism teaches that this sense of a separate self, this ignorance, causes our suffering. It is one of the three poisons, along with anger and desire, that afflict us. It is the source of distance between ourselves and people we perceive as different from us.

In my college intro psych class we were asked to a simple psychological experiment on ourselves. The professor told us to be aware of the saliva in our mouths and then to swallow it. No problem. Then we were asked to imagine spitting that saliva into a sterile glass and drinking it. Disgusting. The spit that was part of us, became spit that was separate from us and suddenly became repulsive. Like the spit experiment demonstrates, we can have dramatically different reactions to the same thing depending on our sense of separation from it.  Setting ourselves apart from the world and those different from us leads to all the hate, intolerance and violence in the world.

People are different from each other like we are different from the rocks and trees of the planet. Unlike the rocks and trees, as people, we suffer. We suffer from our general ignorance and specific ignorance. We don’t have to be Buddhist to practice awareness of our suffering and the suffering of others and to practice compassion for ourselves and each other by identifying the source of our suffering and trying to make things better. With enough awareness we could uproot our ignorance, see the world from each other’s point of view and create peace. We are one in our desire for peace, personal, interpersonal, and world peace.

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Reluctant Arsonist and Compassionate Firefighter

Anger is like fire. Fire hurts if you touch it in the wrong way and the more you let it burn the more damage it does. If you suffer from anger, think of yourself as both a reluctant arsonist and a compassionate firefighter. The arsonist part of you keeps setting fires by accident. The firefighter part of you notices fires and puts them out.

Whether you get angry at some petty nonsense, or great injustice, you set a fire. To break the arson habit, to stop anger from arising, you have get good at putting out the fires. When you get good at putting out fires, eventually you will skip the step of starting them.

It is harder to put out fires when they have spread. Think of that first moment of anger as lighting a match. You can blow out a burning match or you can touch it to something to set the house on fire. The trick is to use your breath as soon as the match is struck. When you notice the first impulse of anger, breathe out all of the air in you lungs. Be careful what you do, say and think. If you indulge your anger, you set the house ablaze.

That happens. Once the house is on fire, then it takes time with focused attention and compassionate breathing to stand in the flames. Your thoughts feed the fire. Your long steady breaths protect the house by dousing it with water. Steady breathing in the face of anger brings your body back to a state of rest.

When you are angry, you experience narrow vision and can only see things from one perspective. When you become calmer, your mind opens up and you can see the problem from other perspectives. That is like bringing in help to fight the flames. When you bring in different thought perspectives, the thoughts that were feeding the fire diminish and the thoughts that extinguish the fire take over. Your steady breathing brings you back to calm as the anger passes.

The thoughts that extinguish the fire are not about the right and wrong of whatever made you angry, they are about working with anger and regaining your mind to better approach the right and wrong. They are the thoughts of the firefighter, compassionately observing the fire, isolating it, and putting it out.

The firefighter is filled with compassion. They do not blame the arsonist for starting the fire. They feel their pain as their own and use their available tools, their breath and their thoughts to stop the fire and soothe the pain.

As you learn to inhabit the firefighter you can also fight fires in other people’s anger. When you see anger anywhere, you respond with calm, compassionate breathing rather than by lighting more matches. You notice anger in others as pain and discomfort and you practice isolating and containing the anger rather than blaming the arsonist. The more time you spend inhabiting the firefighter, the better you get at it, and with enough practice, eventually, you can save the arsonist the trouble off all that fire setting.

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Life Advice for a Child: Be Good, Learn Compassion, Breathe

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Judging Habit

We judge others because that is our habit. Judgement is part of thinking and acting in the world. We continually have to make choices about what to do and we rely on our judgement to make those choices. Our judgement informs our choices so we cannot live with out judgement. If we see a lion, our survival depends our our judgement that tells us we are facing a dangerous predator. We do the same with other people. We pass judgements on them about whether they are friendly or ferocious. It is natural to pass judgements on people. However, our habit takes this natural tendency and turns it back on us. We end up using our judgements to prop up our egos.

Judging others and ourselves is how we reinforce our egos by identifying ways we are the same and different and better better worse than each other. Those comparisons give us a solid identity, which is more comfortable than wondering what we are. Even if that identity makes us feel horrible about ourselves at least we are sure we exist.

How we judge others is how we judge ourselves. We create or adopt a set of values and then judge how we measure up to those values. It is an insidious habit because even passing positive judgements implies the negative judgement. As we appreciate beauty, we fear ugliness. When we appreciate intelligence we fear stupidity. If we think we are better than some people, we fear we are worse than others. There is no end to the comparisons we can make.

If we find we are better than others, we falsely prop ourselves up. If we think we are worse than others we falsely put ourselves down. Eventually, when we find ourselves suffering, our judgements have turned on us. We can’t stop the habit, because we don’t see it as a problem with the judging, we only notice the results of the judgements.

If we notice our judgement habit, we can see what we are doing, become conscious of the habit and change it. If we can stop judging others and ourselves, we free ourselves from the trap of these judgements. Even if we can’t stop judging, by being aware of the dangers of habitual judging, we learn to doubt our judgements and reduce the power they have over us.

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What Others Think

It matters what other people think about us. It matters what we think about ourselves. When people think well of us and treat us well, we can feel good about ourselves. When people think bad things about us or treat us badly, that also affects us. We are social beings. We need each other to survive. Our sense of who we are is largely based on what other people think about us. We need to be loved. We need regular evidence that we matter.

In order to feel good about ourselves, we need to know that we are good. One way to confirm that we are good is to see ourselves in a positive light from other people’s perspectives. Seeking that confirmation is second nature to us, but that basic goodness is our primary nature. If we are able to recognize our primary nature of worth and dignity, then we are better able to compare what others think with what we know.

If you are playing cards and holding an ace of hearts, you know what that card is and no matter what other people think your card is, you know exactly what you have. If they try to guess your card, you can confidently say right or wrong. It doesn’t affect you if their guesses are wrong. You can confidently put your card in your pocket and you don’t have to check it. It is what it is.

It is helpful and delightful for your sense of self to have others recognize goodness in you and treat you as you deserve, with kindness, respect, admiration and love. Who sees your goodness, and who appreciates it, matters and has real effects on your life, but understanding for yourself how you matter can give you what you need to work with all those other opinions out there. When you know what you have, you can stop checking.

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